Cross-Cultural Psychology: Beyond the Dichotomy of Individualism – Collectivism


Content: 1. There is more than East and West in cross-cultural psychology, 2. Need for internationalization of developmental psychology, 3. Integration of indigenous psychology, 4. Addressing country, individual, and situational levels

There is more than East and West in cross-cultural psychology

At the beginning of the 1990s, Markus and Kitayama (1991) presented two opposite concepts of selfhood as a defining distinction between cultures; independence as an individualist and interdependence as a collectivist approach to relate to others [1]. For example, Western cultures were described to promote individualism that is, in contrast to the more contextually embedded self-construal of other cultures, rather separated from social context [2]. However, some research could not confirm the contrasting independence-interdependence culture factor and presents evidence that speaks for a seven-factor model with correlated but specific cultural characteristics that would rather result in somewhat differentiable self-concepts across six cultural regions than in an East-West categorization [2].

Need for internationalization in developmental psychology

Earlier criticism of the individualism-collectivism dichotomy could not prevent the overuse of it during the last 25 years in research that was seeking to explain cross-cultural differences [3] Also in lifespan development research, a continued emphasis on more multi-dimensional and independence-interdependence co-occurrence in different cultures is required to understand how cultural contexts interact with children’s development of selfhood [13]. Parenting style influences the level of autonomy in young children, which, for example, was found as the explanation for Kenyan children’s tendency to display low self-orientation instead of a developmental delay in self-recognition as could be mistakenly assumed with culture insensitive study approaches [12]. Another example of such research is the study on how the development of behavioral autonomy, as typical for around the stage of adolescence, may be pronounced and accelerated by societal and cultural factors [11]. Moral, intellectual, and professional research internationalization are required to include the so far widely unstudied 95% of the world’s population [3].

Integration of indigenous psychology

Mixed study approaches would provide a qualitative understanding of distinct cultural contexts, as well as the statistical analysis (e.g., factor analysis to identify cross-cultural factors) representative data of populations. Longitudinal studies support deriving conclusions from a lifespan development perspective. Finding universalities requires knowledge about cultural specifics across time [4], i.e., the integration of indigenous psychologies with Western psychology [5]. Additional local data collection would provide for enhanced contextual information [6]. The evolutionary feature of human plasticity allows for different life paths even in case of similar gene-environment interactions, why assuming an interdisciplinary (e.g., psychophysiological [7]) lifespan perspective is important. Because existing instruments measuring independent versus interdependent self-construal lack the multi-dimensionality inherent in cultures and are prone to false positives, new measures should be conceptualized [2]. Based on in-depth contextual understanding questionnaires can be made suitable to respondents’ local situation, response-style, and language [8].

Addressing country, individual, and situational levels

Culture may not follow the boundaries of countries or ethnicities, is constantly changing [4], is complex, and depends on subjectivity [9]. Some study has applied an approach addressing country, individual, and situational levels [10]. In addition to a general biopsychosocial approach, this might contribute to a methodology avoiding a lot of the context-blindness in cross-cultural psychology.

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[1] Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224-253. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.98.2.224

[2] Vignoles, V. L., Owe, E., Becker, M., Smith, P. B., Easterbrook, M. J., Brown, R., & … Bond, M. H. (2016). Beyond the ‘east–west’ dichotomy: Global variation in cultural models of selfhood. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, 145(8), 966-1000. doi:10.1037/xge0000175

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[4] Jensen, L. (2012). Bridging Universal and Cultural Perspectives: A Vision for Developmental Psychology in a Global World. Child Development Perspectives, 6(1), 98-104.

[5] Integration of basic controversies in cross-cultural psychology. (2016). Psychology & Developing Societies, (2), 161. doi:10.1177/0971333616657169

[6] Adams, J., Evangeli, M., Lunnon-Wood, T., & Burch, M. (2014). Restriction and dependence to autonomy and freedom: Transformation in adolescent heart transplant recipients. Pediatric Transplantation, 18(6), 637-650.

[7] Chernorizov A., M., Zhong-qing, J., Petrakova A., V., & Zinchenko Yu., P. (2016). Face cognition in humans: Psychophysiological, developmental, and cross-cultural aspects. Psychology In Russia: State Of Art, Vol 9, Iss 4, Pp 37-50 (2016), (4), 37.

[8] Van de Vijver, F. R. (2016). Methodological Challenges and Solutions in Cross-Cultural Psychology: Opportunities for Romanian I/O Psychology. Introduction to the Special Issue. Human Resources Psychology / Psihologia Resurselor Umane, 14(2), 107-110.

[9] Lonner, W. J. (2015). Half a century of cross-cultural psychology: A grateful coda. American Psychologist, 70(8), 804-814. doi:10.1037/a0039454

[10] Vu, T., Finkenauer, C., Huizinga, M., Novin, S., & Krabbendam, L. (2017). Do individualism and collectivism on three levels (country, individual, and situation) influence theory-of-mind efficiency? A cross-country study. Plos ONE, 12(8), 1-20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0183011

[11] Titzmann, P. F., & Silbereisen, R. K. (2012). Acculturation or Development? Autonomy Expectations Among Ethnic German Immigrant Adolescents and Their Native German Age-Mates. Child Development, 83(5), 1640. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01799.x

[12] Broesch, T., Callaghan, T., Henrich, J., Murphy, C., & Rochat, P. (2011). Cultural Variations in Children’s Mirror Self-Recognition. Journal Of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 42(6), 1018-1029.

[13] Independence and Interdependence in Children’s Developmental Experiences. (2010). CHILD DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVES, 4(1), 31-36.